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Biden Stumps in NH, Still Has Time For Olmert's Call

CONCORD, N.H. -- Joe Biden had a lot to say when he visited an assisted-living center here today -- about his children's career choices, the merits of in-law suites, and his pal Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister who he said called him last night while he was standing at the Manchester airport baggage carousel. But the Delaware senator clammed up when asked by a reporter for his thoughts on Bill Clinton's statement this week that he, Clinton, had opposed the war in Iraq from the start.

Clinton's statement has been scrutinized for its seeming contradiction with several comments he made leading up to the war that lent support for using force against Saddam Hussein's regime. Biden, who voted for the war, declined to comment on how Clinton's statement this week squared with what he had heard from Clinton in 2002 and early 2003.

"That's an important question for him to answer, not me," Biden said.

Otherwise, Biden was his usual garrulous self as he held forth before about 30 elderly residents gathered in the center's basement function room, with a silver plastic Christmas tree as his backdrop. He touted his strong relationships with world leaders, mentioning that in addition to his recent conversations with Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf and his rival Benazir Bhutto, he had just last night taken a call from Olmert while waiting for his bags at the airport. "The point I'm making is not that I'm important, it's why aren't they calling the president of the United States?" he said. "I know these guys and they're waiting for an American leader...for enlightened American leadership."

Asked about the costs of elder care, Biden talked about how valuable it is for families to be able to care for their elderly members in their own homes, without resorting to institutional care -- an interesting tack to take while addressing residents of an assisted living facility. He said he was glad to be able to have his mother living in an addition built for that purpose in his own house, and that he was proud of having pushed through the legislation years ago that allowed the elderly to take out reverse mortgages on their homes, to help pay for late-in-life needs. While living with family members wasn't the right answer for all older people, he said, that approach was "more morally consistent with what we like to think of ourselves."

Prompted by a local reporter, he explained why he wears a flag pin, unlike Barack Obama, who recently said he stopped wearing his because he felt that too many in Washington were wearing the pins as empty symbols that were undermined by their actions in Congress. "In the neighborhood I grew up in, you were proud of it. It was a way of showing solidarity," Biden said. "I'm not some phony patriot." But he said he understood why some of his fellow Democrats had stopped wearing the pin, lamenting that "the far right has bastardized the flag and made it seem like only certain people can wear it."

He added to his flag discourse a classic Bidenesque line: that he had recently been challenged about his pin after a speech in Boulder, Colorado by a "very attractive woman who looked like she just finished a sociology course at Bryn Mawr college, if you know what I mean." Judging by the blank reaction, most in his audience appeared not to.

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  November 29, 2007; 3:26 PM ET
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